The truth about Floyd Mayweather vs. Tenshin Nasukawa

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

There’s so much worth discussing, exploring and debating in the sporting world. Then, there are topics or occasions that we must lament even having to argue about.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Tenshin Nasukawa’s exhibition at Rizin in Japan on New Year’s Eve is one such talking point. Those who understand fighting, the business of fighting, and who have even a small sense of combat sports and entertainment in Japan, specifically, over the past quarter century or so, saw it and understood this cross-over appearance on the year-end card for what it obviously was, and was being called - an exhibition, not sport – even before it happened.

Unfortunately, all too many fans and members of the media spoke about and covered it in a way that belied a great deal of ignorance. In the past day, I’ve noticed fans and media members alike discussing the exhibition without an understanding of what an exhibition at Japanese events like these are, historically.

Some of the MMA media’s most well-known members even went so far as to cover the exhibition as though it were a competition in their reporting and defend it on social media as a fight. Prove to us how it was a fixed fight, they’ve said, in one form or another.

I’m not saying it was a “fixed” fight, in the way we understand them in the West. Instead, I’ll say the obvious – It wasn’t a fight at all.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has the types of exclusive contracts that would likely preclude him from actually competing in a boxing fight against another professional in Japan, on the broadcast networks it was carried on.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has not fought for as little money as he’s been reported to make from this appearance in well over a decade.

Mayweather did not have a training camp for this appearance and thus came into the ring in vastly different shape than we’ve ever seen him compete at. The boxer has many faults – namely, being an unrepentant and serial woman beater – but laziness or lack of preparation for fights is not one of them.

Mayweather Jr. always trains for fights and always comes into them in shape. He didn’t train for what he did in Japan and didn’t come into it in fighting shape because it wasn’t a fight.

The promotion did not bill Mayweather Jr. and Nasukawa’s encounter at Rizin as a fight. They called it an exhibition.

That is to say, it was clearly advertised as theater to a Japanese audience well-acquainted with and quite open to such staged outings.

All of the preceding lets us know in advance that Mayweather vs. Nasukawa was not going to be any more of a competition than Mayweather vs. The Big Show in WWE was.

If that weren’t enough, however, the appearance itself played out just like an exhibition and not at all like a fight or competition of any sort - Mayweather dancing, his opponent reeling backward and falling down for no reason as the most glancing of punches landed.

Neither Mayweather nor Nasukawa ever threw a punch beyond sparring-level intensity or speed.

In the needless defenses of this clearly labeled exhibition with a predetermined outcome, fans and media members have asked easily answerable questions.

Why would Mayweather do it?
To make money without taking any damage.

Why would Rizin do it?
To generate a lot of extra interest in their event, to make perhaps millions extra from having possibly the most famous fighter in the world attached to their card.

Wouldn’t a Japanese star losing to a foreigner look bad for the fighter and for the organization? If so, why would they pre-arrange an outcome that would result in a loss for the Japanese fighter?
Quite the contrary – the biggest Japanese names in combat sports have usually lost multiple times, sometimes badly, to foreign competition. Their heart, courage, humility and displayed agony during and after bouts is usually enough to increase their popularity, not diminish it.

Tenshin Nasukawa showed his toughness, dealing with this brutal “loss” in the ring for the first time ever. His story moving forward will become richer, moving from untested phenom to a maturing warrior with courage demonstrated and character built to come back from crushing defeat. He’ll be more loved than ever by Japanese fans, now.

Only people who haven’t been around long enough to have covered Japanese MMA, kickboxing, and professional wrestling would ever think that a Japanese star losing to a high-profile international opponent, in either exhibition, professional wrestling, or real combat sports, would necessarily damage the Japanese athlete’s standing among fans.

Go ahead, name a Japanese fighter who has lost popularity among Japanese fans due to losses alone.

It wasn’t a “fixed fight.” It wasn’t a fight at all. Nothing leading up to it would lead an honest and savvy observer to believe it was going to be a fight and nothing that occurred in the exhibition gives evidence to it being a fight.

It was an exhibition, the type of which has a long and well-documented history in Japanese fight promotions, who have often mixed in planned, non-competitive theater exhibitions like this in with real athletic competitions on cards.

You can be ok with that type of mixing of competition and staged theater, or not. That’s an interesting debate to have.

But you cannot – with any sense of specific pertinent history, fight technique, or observational skills borne from experience – argue that Mayweather Jr. and Nasukawa actually “fought” one another.

The promoter didn’t call it a fight and neither fighter will have their respective professional records altered from the affair. Calling it a fight should be reserved for those who wait for Santa Claus to come down their chimneys.

About the author:

Elias Cepeda writes a regular column for The UG Feed; you can find Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda.

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